The Crucible | Arthur Miller
Puritans: early American settlers. God fearing, under lots of pressure = hysteria about witches.
Unfair trials = ALLEGORY for 1950s American hysteria about Communism.
What is the play about?
Social Context of the McCarthy Era (1950s) and hysteria about Communism
America began to worry that if Communism spread to other smaller countries, it would get even stronger and could take over the world = The Domino Effect.
They became paranoid about Russian spies and the idea that Reds were under the bed = hiding in America already.
There was little evidence that such fears were realistic, nevertheless, the House of UnAmerican Activities was founded by Senator McCarthy.
If found guilty of communism, people in the public eye especially artists, actors, and writers could be blacklisted which meant they weren’t allowed to work in Hollywood.
Blacklisting ruined many innocent people’s reputations, careers and lives – nobody would dare work with a blacklisted actor.
- Born: 17th Oct 1915
- Died: 10th February 2005
- Son of Polish-Jewish immigrants in Harlem, NYC.
- Majored in Journalism at Michigan university and began writing plays.
- He won a Pulitzer Prize for Death of a Salesman.
- Miller’s friend Kazan was called before the House of UnAmerican Activities committee to discuss a group he attended which discussed the philosophy of communism, and was asked to name other artists who attended.
- In response to the HUAC’s growing power, Miller wrote The Crucible.
- Kazan named Miller as someone who attended the meetings.
- After The Crucible opened in 1953, HUAC became even more suspicious. In 1956, Miller was called before the HUAC and asked to name his friends and coworkers. He refused.
- He was subsequently blacklisted.
- In 1958 he was found in contempt of court and sentenced to thirty days in prison.
- Fortunately, a court of appeals overturned the conviction.
- Soon after, McCarthyism lost its momentum.
In 1620, the Mayflower brought the first Puritans to America’s east coast.
The Puritans were religious extremists, who were persecuted in Britain, and believed God had given them America to make into the new holy lands.
Due to the presence of Native Americans, famine and unfamiliar wildlife and landscape, the Puritans felt surrounded by dangers.
This suffering intensified paranoia and their need for scapegoats.
Puritans ruled by theocracy where the church was also the government.
This meant that neighbours were encouraged to watch out for immoral practices among others. e.g. Not attending church was a crime.
Since the bible talks of witches acting on behalf of the devil on earth, to deny witches existed was blasphemy.
The Salem witch-trials were a real event in 1692. All cases brought before the court were found guilty of being witches.
Over 150 people were arrested, 20 people died by hanging or torture and 5 more died in poor prison conditions.
During confessions, a suspect who wanted forgiveness (and to live) was expected to name other people in the town as witches.
Consider text-type conventions as techniques
- 3 Act structure
- Dramatic foreshadowing
- Dramatic Irony
- Blocking & stage directions
- Authorial notes which set the scene
3 Act Structure
- Exposition: Betty’s illness and the town’s rumours.
- The Dramatic premise: is Abigail’s need to defend herself from the town and Parris’ accusations and her desire to get rid of Elizabeth so she can be with Proctor. Proctor’s need is to prove himself a good man and stop the trials.
- Inciting incident: Abigail realises that confessing to being a witch could be powerful and “confesses” in order to be in a position to accuse others.
- Obstacles: The arrests of Goody Osbourn and Sarah Good mean the court is taking the trial seriously, it will be hard for Proctor to convince them Abigail is lying.
- Rev. Hale questions Proctor and he forgets the “adultery” commandment.
- First culmination: Elizabeth is accused in court but the charges are dismissed, thanks to Mary.
- Midpoint: Elizabeth is arrested, and Mary is too terrified to testify.
- Climax: Proctor admits his adultery and it does no good – Danforth and Hathorne side with Abigail and accuse him of witchcraft.
- Denoument: Proctor refuses to sign a confession or to name any of his neighbours as witches, and so he will be executed.
The mention of Elizabeth in court early in Act 2 is a foreshadowing of her arrest.
When Elizabeth lies about Proctor’s affair with Abigail, it is ironic because the audience and the court have already heard Proctor admit it. But Elizabeth does not know this, and by lying, ruins her chances and Proctor’s of convincing the court.
Common Belonging Themes in The Crucible
- Identity and reputation
- Social class-structure
- Choosing not to belong
- Sense of place
- Lack of Acceptance
MAJOR THEME = The individual’s role in choosing to challenge the group rather than going along with the crowd.
Identity and reputation in The Crucible
Proctor’s characterisation revolves around reputation – he is a married man and a wealthy farm owner which gives him high status in the community.
When asked to confess, Proctor exclaims “Leave me my name!” because he feels that the only good thing about him still left is his reputation.
Elizabeth’s dialogue “He has his goodness now, I would not take it from him.” Shows that having a positive sense of identity can be more valuable than even survival. By refusing to give anyone’s names up as “witches” to the court, Proctor regains the identity of a good man.
Individualism is extremely limited in Salem – as is evident by costuming.
Reverend Hale’s characterisation is also that of a shifting identity. He begins as part of the trials but works against the church when the trials get out of control. He loses his position as ‘witch expert’ and place within the community.
Likewise, Abigail’s characterisation goes from a weak reputation within the community to a powerful one.
Techniques used to create the theme: Social class-structure
Tibitua is the first to be accused of witchcraft because she is characterised as the lowest rung of society = a Barbados slave.
Drunks, poor, illiterate, and low status women i.e. the marginalised are most often accused of witchcraft = they become scapegoats. Consider how Tibitua accepts the title of witch in gaol.
Abigail is characterised as being very low on the social ladder because she is an unmarried young woman with a bad reputation.
Abigail first uses her accusations to deflect blame from herself but then enjoys a power she could never before experience.
Techniques used to create the theme: Choice not to belong
Danforth exclaims “You are either with this court, or you must be counted against it!” This ultimatum disallows any criticism of the court.
Proctor makes a choice not to belong to the community when he admits his adultery – ironically, the court won’t believe him and he has ruined his reputation for nothing.
Mary makes the choice not to belong with the girls, but goes against her values under pressure because she fears what the girls will do to her.
This is symbolised by the “yellow canary” which Abigail says is attacking the girls, which they claim is the spirit of Mary. Mary renounces John Proctor and goes along with Abigail to save herself in The Crucible.
The euphemism “I look for John Proctor that took me from my sleep and put knowledge in my heart!” implies both carnal knowledge = sex, but also true knowledge of their hypocritical community.
The loss of this relationship catalyses Abigail’s amorality – Proctor has treated her badly.
He uses the symbolism “There is a promise in such sweat.”
The relationship between Elizabeth and Proctor is strained since his affair.
It has taken the events of the trial and Abigails’ attack on Elizabeth for them to reconcile. Proctor says of Abigail in hyperbolic metaphor: “She thinks to dance with me on my wife’s grave!”
Sense of Place
The symbolic title “The Crucible” represents a society under pressure – like the piece of chemistry equipment. Under great external pressure, the substance inside melts down.
What this tells us is that something hysterical would have happened with or without Abigail to stir it up – the theocracy put them under too much pressure.
Lack of Acceptance
There are many town grievances especially due to the characterisation of the Putnams as greedy and hypocritical.
Proctor is quite unaccepting of Rev. Parris, using the metaphor “I see no light of God in him.” To denounce him as a minister.
The whole society is set up to be judgemental and critical because of the theocracy = a recipe for disaster in The Crucible.
Rebecca Nurse and eventually Proctor choose to die rather than betray their values. Greatest among these values is honesty. This is shown in his repetition in his speech to Danforth: ““For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now…God damns our kind especially.”